People today know Parks and Recreation as this funny sitcom with a lot of warmth and heart about really distinct and likable characters. Sometimes they veer too far into caricature territory, but they are always grounded by the huge amount of chemistry they share. The show is just so good-natured and lovable, which is appropriate because it’s a show about people working in a city government parks and recreation department. It’s now going into it’s 7th and finale season after coming off a fantastic 6th season finale (that could have honestly made a satisfying series finale), but now that we’ve come so far it’s important to think about how these characters have changed. Thinking back, Parks and Recreation was very different in its first season. Most shows take some time to find themselves, but this one essentially had to reinvent itself after a shaky start. The reason this is the case was that the cast back then was pretty much unlikable for the most part. To illustrate this, I’d like to compare the differences between how they are now and how they were back then. Here’s what we know of the cast now:
Leslie: The overachieving, thoughtful, and goodhearted star of the show.
Tom: A social media obsessed slacker turned hard working entrepreneur.
Ron: Manliest man on television.
April: The gloomy youngster with potential.
Andy: A lovable oaf.
Ann: Leslie’s well-adjusted best friend.
Jerry/Gerry/Terry?: Some useless nobody.
Donna: An assertive and blunt employee.
Ben: Leslie’s nerdy love interest with a “dark” past.
Chris: LITERALLY the most enthusiastic person ever.
Now onto season 1… Obviously, Ben and Chris weren’t on the show back then, but the rest of the cast was and they might as well have been completely different characters.
Leslie (S1): Leslie from season 1 is a loser. I don’t mean that in the “Haha, what an adorkable person she is”, I mean that in the “you are objectively a failure as a human being” kind of way. Sure, she has a lot of the energy and the desire to do good that she has now, but back then she was infuriatingly incompetent. She was shockingly bad at her job, so much so that her antics and delusional attitude never approach something that could be considered funny. Good jokes about people who are terrible at what they do come from the sense that perhaps someone could feasibly make the mistakes they do, that they actually could get confused at whatever it is that confused them. With Leslie they went too far, which led to a lot of people criticizing her as a wannabe Michael Scott (from The Office). What’s worse is besides being a total mama’s girl, there was also the implication that Leslie didn’t get her job through any merit of her own and that it was only due to her mother’s influence that she got work in the government. Now nepotism is a hugely important factor in career hunting in real life as well, but the thought of the ultra competent and hard working Leslie we know from season 2 on only having her job because of her mommy pulled a few strings is like a black mark on the series that will follow it to its grave.
Tom (S1): Tom back in season 1 isn’t much of a character. He’s pretty much an average schmuck who hates his job and hits on girls way out of his league. There is nothing overtly remarkable about him, save for one huge glaring thing. He’s married. From what we see of him, he is constantly trying to sleep with other women, and while we get the sense that the marriage is strained, it still makes Tom come off as incredibly sleazy. Thankfully season 2 remedies this with a very good explanation as to why he does those things.
Ron (S1): Take Ron’s ultra anti-government beliefs, subtract all the manliness and charisma that makes him lovable, and you get season 1 Ron. Just a guy that seems kind of insane.
April (S1): April was definitely more of a generic teenager back then. She seemed like a product of what old people think of teenagers these days, and is very much an exaggeration of “nouveau youth culture”. This characterization was further developed in season 2, but was dropped because of Aubrey Plaza’s natural ability to seem unenthused with everything.
Andy (S1): This guy is pretty much a piece of garbage in season 1. Back then he was dating Ann and played the role of “jerk boyfriend”. He was rude, loud, self-centred, and a liar too. Faking being hurt so he could have Ann dote on him hand and foot and laughing at a guy who fell into a pit were just some of the grimy things he’s done in the first season. In the following seasons he was dumbed down, and I suppose the writers wanted that to be the explanation behind what an ass hat he was but we know better. He was definitely more malicious than stupid back then.
Ann (S1): She really… hasn’t changed much actually. I definitely felt really bad for her back in season 1 because of how awful everyone else around her was, but that’s about all that’s changed. Ann is always Ann.
Jerry/Gerry/Terry??? (S1): Some useless nobody.
Donna (S1): Think Kelly from the first season of The Office. She had no other role but to just exist in the background.
Mark (S1): Back in season 1 and up until the end of season 2, Mark was a main character on this show. A relic of another time, Mark was originally Leslie’s main love interest . An unenthusiastic and shameless womanizer, Mark existed at a time when the show was trying to be The Office and not the wonderful live-action cartoon it is today. There isn’t much to say about Mark, he’s sort of a realistic take on a man disillusioned with reality and is just drifting through life trying to fill his voids, but man did he stop fitting in after the first season. Because of how painfully clear it was that he didn’t belong anymore, he was retired from the show (a result the actor himself was savvy enough to initiate on his own) after its second season and no one has ever looked back.
There you have it, Parks and Recreation was a show about terrible people back when it started. It’s surreal just thinking about that and saying that statement, but it’s the truth. Leslie was an incompetent mama’s girl, Tom was a cowardly sleaze, Ron was just some wack job, Andy was a selfish bastard, and Mark… well, Mark existed. The fact that everyone’s come so far is wonderful, and the staggering jump in quality going into season 2 was legendary, but I can’t help but think about what a disaster Parks almost was now that we’re nearing the end.
Quote of the Day:
“What I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring loudly at me”
Leslie Knope (S1), Parks and Recreation
“Attendance has been low, and if I don’t make it awesome, they may cancel it. I wonder if I’m going to make it awesome”
Leslie Knope (Current), Parks and Recreation
2 thoughts on “Parks and Recreation Season 1 was a Show About Terrible People”
Thanks for writing this up. It’s been such a long time since I saw the first season, although I did remember it being worse than what came after.